Sierra Maciorowski

A Policy Underground: On Parli Community Outgrouping

Sierra Maciorowski
A Policy Underground: On Parli Community Outgrouping


Link to Facebook discussion may be found here

This past weekend, we attended the National Parliamentary Debate Invitational. As policy debaters, we were already marked with the stereotype of reading a bunch of “weird Ks”, “ressentiment this and that”, and “just cards”. In multiple rounds, we have been accused of “trying to destroy all of parliamentary debate” for reading arguments that we have particular connection to, which others don’t find worthy of being considered the core of the topic.

Recently, we stumbled across an opinion article written last year, demanding the protection of pure parli from the taintage of theory and kritikal arguments in parliamentary debate. This article epitomizes the many misconceptions about policy debaters. We quote:

Parli, due in part to its geographically and socially tighter-knit community, as well as its roots in the Westminster system, has always had a reputation for being nobler than other forms of debate. In LD and policy, for example, wacky kritikal and micropolitical arguments are seen as justified, because debaters are encouraged and even expected to pull out every dirty trick in the book in order to secure a win.”

Now, as much as we appreciate the feudal language, we as policy debaters are not dirty tricksters nor “unnoble”. This is a homogenizing generalization that clumps the very diverse community of policy debaters -- those that LOVE the politics disadvantage, those that LOVE Deleuze, those that LOVE hegemony, those that LOVE the capitalism kritik, and those that LOVE race arguments -- into an army of mindless spreading zombies that steal ballots from the bloodline nobility of parliamentary debaters.

All arguments are valid. No argument should be dismissed as not worthy of listening to, nor considered “toxic” to parliamentary debate. All forms of debate, including parliamentary, are places for knowledge and self-empowerment, and it is especially important to take advantage of educational spaces to discuss kritikal and structural issues in the status quo.

A few days later, we came across a questionable Facebook comment on the post-tournament article that equated policy debaters with “carpetbaggers.” For those who are not familiar with the term “carpetbaggers”, “carpetbaggers” is an adjective to describe unscrupulous opportunists- Northerners that traveled down to the South to profit from Reconstruction. In a similar vein of Civil War and early American historical terminology, we struck more judges than Andrew Jackson used veto power, because many judges were completely unwilling to listen to entire styles of argument.

Debate is, at its core, an educational activity that seeks to train students to be better students and thinkers. It is unparalleled in its ability to teach critical thinking and, as all framework/topicality voting issues express, debate needs to be fair before debaters can access these educational benefits. Excluding debaters who just come to parli to learn different argument styles changes parliamentary debate from a revolutionary space for growth and education to a heavily guarded zone where debaters are never allowed to leave their main event to explore new things.

We come to parli to learn skills such as quick decision making and persuasive speaking that we don’t get from policy. We were never here to “destroy parli” and, just like the rest of the parliamentary debate community, we prepped with our team and learned the event-specific rules. We consider the influx of policy and LD debaters in parliamentary debate a movement, like the Parli Underground at Stanford last year, to introduce different approaches to debate and resolutions-- in our case, more kritikal. Last year, Dougherty Valley’s Rohan Bhargava & Sameer Ziaee read a lot of kritikal arguments, shifting the knowledge production in parliamentary debate from the static policy-making legal framework to epistemic and discourse-centered framing. As a result of Rohan and Sameer’s parli run last year, finals of NPDI consisted of Campolindo reading a kritikal affirmative against Evergreen, who came into the round prepped with a capitalism kritik.

99% of the parli community that we encountered is composed of fantastic people that care about their activity and want to see it grow and constantly improve. They are all very welcoming people and made the tournament an enjoyable experience. With that in mind, it’s sad to see that other portions of the parli community believe that they “don’t need that kind of toxicity and negativity in our community”. This “toxicity” is a common misunderstanding: that parliamentary debate is an arena for policy debaters and LD debaters to look down upon parliamentary debaters. This is not the case at all, because debate is not a nobility system-- there are unique advantages to parli as there are with policy, which is why we are trying to do both.

These are just our observations, and of course, not everyone is going to agree with us -- we welcome that difference. We just hope this helps push both parli and policy even more in the direction of inclusivity so that debaters are free to try all forms of debate. In the end, policy and parli are all a part of the most transformative activity there is, and we shouldn’t let preconceived notions of what style does what make debate into an exclusionary activity. We are all debaters, one and the same, despite our primary choice of events.

Carla Ho and Eunice Jung debate for Bishop O'Dowd High School.